June 14, 2018
I had the privilege this week of participating in a panel focused on developing startup ecosystems as part of the ITTN Cross Border Technology Summit in Suzhou, China.The spirit of the conference was to encourage entrepreneurs to think globally about their opportunity and build relationships outside of any and all comfort zones, including geographic ones.One of the questions asked of the panel was “what is your role in helping your innovation ecosystem think outside of its borders?” Admittedly, it was a question I had to think about for a second.The answer that came to me most naturally was we encourage our companies to think BIG with their vision. This may seem obvious, especially in dominant ecosystems like Silicon Valley and Shenzhen, where global market share is the goal.However, developing startup ecosystems are often different and the majority of early funding is provided from angels who have made their wealth in practical, but successful businesses. These investors want to see business plans rooted in the fundamentals leaving little room for ambition. This starts a cycle where founders are encouraged to think smaller with their vision because it’s what local investors want to hear from them.Yet, these two ideologies aren’t mutually exclusive - you can think big while having an eye on building a sustainable business in the long run. Big, ambitious thinking when balanced with intense focus is a powerful combination.We always ask ourselves, “if we get lucky and everything goes right, how big could this be?” It’s important to remember that venture capital is a business of maximizing the ceiling, not minimizing the floor.After the panel, an entrepreneur found me to say he’d faced this problem when starting his startup which focuses on early-stage colon cancer detection. Local investors had told him the dream was too big and the problem too hard, but he kept pushing and found funding elsewhere.If you’re angel investing in ecosystems that are just getting started, I encourage you to challenge founders to think big. Without your encouragement, society might miss out on the next big breakthrough.